Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) stimulates the formation of osteoclast-like tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase-positive multinucleated cells (TRAP + MNC) in vitro. This effect likely results from stimulation of adenylyl cyclase, which is mediated by two PGE2 receptors, designated EP2 and EP4. We used cells from mice in which the EP2 receptor had been disrupted to test its role in the formation of TRAP + MNC. EP2 heterozygous (+/-) mice in a C57BL/6 x 129/SvEv background were bred to produce homozygous null (EP2 -/-) and wild-type (EP2 +/+) mice. PGE2, PTH, or 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D increased TRAP+ MNC in 7-day cultures of bone marrow cells from EP2 +/+ mice. In cultures from EP2 -/- animals, responses to PGE2, PTH, and 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D were reduced by 86%, 58%, and 50%, respectively. A selective EP4 receptor antagonist (EP4RA) further inhibited TRAP+ MNC formation in both EP2 +/+ and EP2 -/- cultures. In cocultures of spleen and calvarial osteoblastic cells, the response to PGE2 or PTH was reduced by 92% or 85% when both osteoblastic cells and spleen cells were from EP2 -/- mice, by 88% or 68% when only osteoblastic cells were from EP2 -/- mice and by 58% or 35% when only spleen cells were from EP2 -/- mice. PGE2 increased receptor activator of nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB ligand (RANKL) messenger RNA expression in osteoblastic and bone marrow cell cultures from EP2 +/+ mice 2-fold but had little effect on cells from EP2 -/- mice. Spleen cells cultured with RANKL and macrophage colony stimulating factor produced TRAP+ MNC. PGE2 increased the number of TRAP+ MNC in spleen cell cultures from EP2 +/+ mice but not in cultures from EP2 -/- mice. EP4RA had no effect on the PGE2 response in spleen cell cultures. PGE2 decreased the expression of messenger RNA for granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor in spleen cell cultures from EP2 +/+ mice but had little effect on cells from EP2 -/- mice. These data demonstrate that the prostaglandin EP2 receptor plays a role in the formation of osteoclast-like cells in vitro. A major defect in EP2 -/- mice appears to be in the capacity of osteoblastic cells to stimulate osteoclast formation. In addition, there appears to be a defect in the response of cells of the osteoclastic lineage to PGE2 in EP2 -/- mice.